Book on brief form of poetry
not short of national honors
Date: Jan. 8, 2001
By: Marianne Kunnen-Jones
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Archive: Research News
University of Cincinnati classics professor Kathryn Gutzwiller's book about the briefest form of Greek poetry has earned her the top award for scholarship given by her classical studies peers.
The 2,700-member American Philological Association presented its Charles J. Goodwin Award of Merit to Gutzwiller on Jan. 5 in San Diego. The prize recognizes her scholarly work, "Poetic Garlands: Hellenistic Epigrams in Context," which was published by the University of California Press in 1998. The annual award salutes an outstanding contribution to classical scholarship published by a member of the association in the last three years.
Greek epigrams, though concise, emerged some 2,700 years ago as inscriptions on tombstones and other objects. Unlike other forms of archaic or classical poetry, they were intended for private reading by casual observers rather than public recitation. Some 400 years later, in the Hellenistic period, they began to be composed as a sophisticated literary form and placed in poetry books.
One of Gutzwiller's favorite works is by a women poet named Anyte who was among the first to compose epitaphs for animals. Here is one she wrote for a young hound:
"You met your death by a thickly rooted shrub, Locris,
swiftest of the puppies who love to bark.
Such a pitiless poison was trust into your nimble limb
by a viper with iridescent neck."
Gutzwiller's volume is the first full-length study on these later, more literary poems, which were written by "professional" poets, rather than amateurs who wrote the inscribed ones. Many were on topics like death, while others were erotic.
"The oddest epigrams may be epitaphs for fishermen, who were the poorest of the poor in antiquity and certainly wouldn't have employed poets to write grave inscriptions for them. But Leonidas of Tarentum celebrated their hard work, sometimes in a bizarre manner." Gutzwiller said he wrote an epitaph for a diver bitten in half by a shark, "so buried both on land and in the sea. And he has another poem for a fisherman who was so hungry he tried to eat his catch 'fresh,' while it was still alive and so choked to death when the fish lodged in his gullet."
Gutzwiller's "splendid book is a fresh contribution to literature drawing welcome attention to a previously neglected genre and to a period in which there will now be increasing interest," according to her award citation.
Her previous books include "Theocritus' Pastoral Analogies: The Formation of a Genre" (1991) and Studies in the Hellenistic Epyllion" (1981).